Women in Leadership: Ruth's loving leadership
Continuing Salv Army Women's focus on women in leadership, Emilie Trotter (UKI) shares her thoughts on the need for God-inspired, hope-giving leaders in the world today. As she explores this focus, Emilie draws both from her own experience and from biblical examples found in the book of Ruth...
As a teenager, I was never very good at waiting and seemed to live in anticipation of the next exciting moment. I can still hear my mum’s warning tone – ‘Don’t rush your life away, Emilie!’ – as she attempted to bring my teenage fancy back down to earth from whatever exciting social engagement occupied my thoughts that week. I would often dream dreams that started with ‘I can’t wait until…’. That phrase seems so fitting this year as our minds rush ahead to enjoying once again the individual liberties curbed by the pandemic: the desire to embrace loved ones again; travel freely across the country and the globe; meet in worship together.
As New Year posts flooded my social media at the turn of 2021, my mind wandered first to a grieving friend and then to the disappointed young students whose futures are shrouded with the uncertainty of changing exams and admissions processes. Human suffering, grief and pain cannot be parcelled up in year-shaped boxes and tied neatly with a bow - though we often wish they could. Loss cannot be closed as a chapter just because we start another book. Instead, pain lingers.
In the book of Ruth, we meet a grieving mother and widow in Naomi. Her experience of loss and financial destitution is so great that she renames herself Mara, meaning ‘bitter’, believing that God has turned his fist against her. Perhaps you also know a Mara, whose suffering is so great they have fallen into despair. Hasn’t our world suffered a collective trauma in the many losses of the last year?
In the middle of Naomi’s grieving, Ruth migrates with her mother-in-law to Bethlehem. As a Moabite woman, she is putting herself at great risk and leaving her own life and culture behind. She tells Naomi: ‘Don’t urge me to leave you… Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God’ (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth doesn’t rush away from the painful, hard-to-be-around emotions of grief and hardship; instead, she is determined to remain. In times of crisis and chaos we look quickly to those in positions of political power, wealth and influence for strong leadership or our exit map. In this story, that person is Boaz. He is a kinsman redeemer, and by choosing to marry Ruth he restores the family unit and recovers her and Naomi from their terrible financial situation. He is the one who visibly holds reputation, status and power to make change. Isn’t it so easy to fall victim to the belief that these are the factors that make the best leaders?
When we look closely at this story, it is Ruth who is the true hope-giver to Naomi. She models a different form of influence to Boaz - but it is still God-inspired leadership. In the sacrificial journey, in the unglamorous task of working the fields to provide, in the companionship she offers, Ruth leads Naomi to something better. She lingers in the uncomfortable in-between moments of loss. She patiently bears the gruelling journey and positions herself to hard work and servanthood, until God brings about the new season he had planned. Ruth demonstrates that loving leadership doesn’t rush ahead, but it waits and lingers in limbo. Loving leadership invites, listens and empowers – it inhabits the space of others, instead of expecting others to step out of their comfort zone.
Like a candle softly burning in the dark, or a quiet, almost unnoticeable whisper, Ruth’s persistent faithfulness leads Naomi from grief to redemption. In the limbo of 2021, where can we be the hope-giving leaders that the world needs? If we choose not to rush away from one another’s brokenness, how could we emerge from this global crisis into the hope of a new season God has prepared for us?
Emilie (United Kingdom with Republic of Ireland Territory) works for The Salvation Army as a Student Chaplain based in Immanuel College, Bradford, United Kingdom. She has been a youth and schools’ worker for seven years and is passionate about providing pastoral care for teenagers, journeying through the obstacles and challenges they face in life and faith. Along with her husband, Matthew,
Emilie worships at Castleford Salvation Army.